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close this bookCERES No. 109 (FAO Ceres, 1986, 50 p.)
close this folderCerescope
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View the documentNew species, techniques help to rehabilitate African fishponds
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New species, techniques help to rehabilitate African fishponds

Five kilometres of dirt road, then a path between two maizefields rising steeply before it suddenly divides - even if one knows of their existence, the two fishponds operated by a womens' group at Mwilitsa in the Lake Victoria region of Kenya would not be easy to find. Yet, in that region alone, there are at present about 4 200 such ponds. They are operated by individual farmers or by groups like the one at Mwilitsa - Teresa, Myriam, Anna, Leonida, and 35 others - to raise fish for the family table or to sell to neighbours or in the market. Since average meat consumption in this impoverished region is only about 10 kilos per person per year, the potential of these small ponds, each about 10 by 20 metres in area and a little more than half a metre deep, for improving family diets is considerable. With good management, a pond can produce from 20 to 50 kilos of fish a year.

"That may seem like a ridiculously small amount compared with the 75 000 tons of fish brought out of Lake Victoria each year," admits Frans Vallet, leader of the FAO/ UNDP project for the development of fish farming in the Lake Victoria region. "Of that total, however, only 20 000 tons are sold on the markets of the region and the supply is much below the demand. Moreover, threadfish constitutes 60 per cent of the catch and the local population doesn't eat it because they prefer tilapia." The Belgian Fund for Survival, in addition to the Kenyan Government, is contributing to the project.

In 1983 the Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA), with the support of FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme, trained 20 extension workers and seven coordinators, who are presently working with farmers and groups in the region. Their first task, undertaken with the financial support of the World Bank, was a stocktaking of existing ponds, which made them realize that almost all of these were either badly managed or simply abandoned. "The pond should be dug on a spot where the soil is an impervious clay, the gradient very slight, and where water will be available year round," said Vallet. "When an extension worker goes to see a farmer for the first time he shows him the works that are needed to restore a pond. Generally, he also suggests that the pond should be completely emptied. The farmer can then resume his production with first quality young fish (100 fry are worth 15 shillings), that we raise in the project fish hatchery at Kibos, near Kisumu."

A regular culling of the fish or a complete emptying of the pond is essential. "Often," says Vallet, "farmers believe that fish continue to grow indefinitely. In fact, it takes about six months and sometimes a little more if it is at a higher altitude or the water is cold, until they reach their maximum length and weight. A pond-reared fish will never weigh more than 500 grams. However, tilapia reproduce very rapidly and overpopulation prevents fish from growing normally."

Each morning and evening at Mwilitsa, teams of two women come to feed their fish with food scraps, ogali leaves, manioc, and cow manure, which, deposited at the bottom of the pond, fertilizes the soil and assures the production of fungus and grass on which the fish feed. "It takes more time for the fish to gain weight with this type of feeding," Vallet explains. "The conversion rate is 10 to 1, while with commercial rations it takes only three kilos to produce a kilo of fish. Use of prepared feeds also permits more densely stocked ponds, since density of population is partly limited by the amount of feed that can be placed there. On the other hand, the cost of commercial feeds is often a negative factor for the farmer. It all depends, finally, on his main objectives."

Since the beginning of the project in July 1984, some 500 ponds have been restored to an operating state and another 500 have been constructed. However, this is still too slow in the view of some 2 100 farmers who have asked help from extension workers to take their turn in this new productive activity. Between October 1984 and June 1985 the new hatchery at Kibos was able to supply more than 43 000 selected tilapia and tilapia Nilotica to the fish farmers. Six other hatcheries are to be built before the end of the project in order to meet the needs of the extension service. Another programme of technical assistance to schools is being provided by a United Nations volunteer who arrived in early 1985 and is working in the Kisii region in collaboration with extension workers and Department of Fishery personnel.

With the expectation of achieving an annual regional output of 200 tons of fish from 4 000 ponds, this project bears the imprint of similar programmes that have been successfully established in several African countries. "Fish farming was introduced to the continent at the beginning of the 1940s," says Michel Vincke of FAO's Department of Fisheries, "but in most cases they were abandoned at the time of independence. Our main objective was to rehabilitate this activity and to introduce new fish species."

An FAO regional project covering Gabon, the Congo, and the Central African Republic has, since the end of the 1960s, provided training for groups of officials and intermediate technicians who have in turn worked to reestablish fish farming in the rural milieu. When the project was begun the Bangui region of the Central African Republic could claim only 11 ponds. Today there are not fewer than 11 000 across the country belonging either to smallholders or to organized groups. Similar developments are under way in Zambia, the Ivory Coast, the Congo, and Kenya. "The basic technique remains the same," says Vincke. "That is to contact the peasants directly, to develop the concept of production without the assistance of the government, including the production of the young fish, which farmers can do perfectly well themselves."

Dani Blain